Competitor Research in Just 10 Minutes per Day

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on October 07, 2010 in: Business - Plain & Simple, Tips in 10, Tools & Resources

Just a couple hours before writing this, I was talking with a client who was telling me that she had run a successful business for nearly 20 years… until about 3 years ago. And then, all of sudden, her revenues plummeted. Yes, plummeted. The short story is: She was so busy with her ongoing success that she didn’t see new web-based trends that threatened her business.

She’s still doing okay but has had to play “catch-up” to achieve the level of success she once enjoyed.

Competition is fierce! We can all probably think of a time when our competitor pulled a fast one on us or came up with something just a little more clever or a little more innovative than we could. (Perhaps the reverse is true, too, but we never remember those times as clearly!). So, part of your job is to keep an eye on your competition and make sure that they don’t accelerate too far past you.

Now, if I recommended competitor research in any other situation, you’d probably say “I already have enough to do; this just seems like something else.” But I’m going to show you how you can take ten minutes today to set up some easy competitor research and then take ten minutes each day to monitor your competitors. Chances are, they’re NOT monitoring you so that gives you a distinct competitive advantage.

Setting up your competition watch:

Step one: Create a spreadsheet that lists your competitors in the first column and then includes various comparisons in the next columns. You’ll probably watch them on price and benefits as well as temporary specials, sales, or offers. You’ll also want to know what they are saying about you. Just list across the top of your spreadsheet whatever factors you want to measure them in.

I’ll use a simple example to illustrate: If I ran a sandwich shop and I wanted to see what my competitors were up to, I’d create a spreadsheet that listed the following parameters across the top:

  • Competitor
  • Website
  • Low price sandwiches
  • Low Price point
  • Mid-price sandwiches
  • Mid Price point
  • High price sandwiches
  • High price point
  • Specials
  • Positive things people are saying
  • Negative things people are saying
  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Opportunities
  • Threats
  • Notes

Obviously, you might want to place more across the top but this is what I would watch for if I were a sandwich shop. And yes, you should include a SWOT analysis of your competitors so you “force” yourself to take what you are learning about them and use it to your benefit.

Lastly, I’d go online and keep an eye on them to see what they are doing.

I recommend that you find the following information about your competitors: If you are on Twitter , and you use HootSuite  or TweetDeck , set up a column to list your competitors (tweets from the owners and employees themselves, but also any mention of the business, too).

Next, if you are on LinkedIn, go to the sidebar (where you can review and add applications) and add “Company Buzz”. Set it up to search keywords that include your competitors.

Also, go to Google Alerts and set up an email search that delivers you information containing your competitor’s names.

Lastly, if your competitor has RSS feeds, subscribe to them. By doing these four things in just ten minutes, you are automating the entire process so you don’t have to go hunting for competitor information; it comes directly to you.

Filling out your spreadsheet

Now it’s time to fill out your spreadsheet. Depending on how many competitors you have, and how detailed the columns are across your spreadsheet, you might want to take one competitor each day and spend ten minutes filling it out, starting with your biggest (most threatening) competitor. Or, in some cases, this might be as simple as visiting their business (if they’re local and if they don’t know who you are, of course!).

Daily monitoring

Once your spreadsheet is complete, you can turn your attention to tracking and updating your competitors as the content comes in through the various sources you subscribed to earlier. You shouldn’t have to spend more than 10 minutes per day on this once everything is set up. Watch for:

  • Price changes
  • News items
  • Specials
  • “Buzz” (what other people are saying about them)

When you notice one or two things, it might not amount to much. But the value of doing this on a consistent and ongoing basis is to spot trends because they will give you a hint of something before it happens.

For example, one of your competitors has been a #4 or #5 competitor for some time. Then one day a news item reveals that the company is under new ownership. That prompts you to do a bit of research and you learn that this new owner is really good and taking middle-ground businesses and making them excel. Then you notice that they start to increase their specials and lower their prices to “buy” marketshare! You might not have noticed all this without doing some 10-minutes-per-day competitor analysis!

But the real question is: What can you do with this analysis once you have it?

The first advantage is in knowing your competitor really well. I’m sure we’ve all heard that story about how Xerox repair people knew their competitor’s photocopiers better than their competitors did! The same rule applies here. You won’t become an immediate expert but by paying attention to the information you get, you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll get to know your competition and what really makes them tick.

The second advantage is by including a SWOT analysis while you use your spreadsheet. If you get into the habit of working on it a little bit during your 10 minutes of competitive analysis, the actionable outcomes are quite clear.

When you spot a competitor trending in a particular way, you need to take charge. If they are trying to lower their prices to buy marketshare, you should market more aggressively. If they are trying to steal your customers, you should increase customer loyalty. If they bring in a turnaround artist of a CEO, you should improve your business to make yourself untouchable.

Competitor analysis doesn’t have to take a long time. You already have a really busy schedule. But if you take ten minutes now to set it up and then you take 10 minutes a day to review the research that comes directly to you, you will be an expert on your competition and that will be good for your business!

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